I still vividly remember trying to feed our son formula for the first time when he was around six months old. He was super fussy, refused to eat, and it seemed to get everywhere except for in his mouth. His lips started getting puffy, his face was red, and he got hives on his stomach. He was having an allergic reaction to milk and we were beginning our journey as a food allergy family. May is Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month for families like ours all across the country.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, since 1984, May has been observed as National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. More than 65 million people in the United States have asthma and allergies including more than 16 million children. Chances are high that you or someone you know suffers from asthma, allergies, or both.
For our family, our journey began years ago when my husband was diagnosed with asthma as a child. He spent several years going to the doctor before his asthma was diagnosed and under control. I don’t think much of it now as he is able to control it as an adult. It became more real for me personally when our son was diagnosed with multiple food and environmental allergies in April 2018.
For us, and for many other families worldwide, a food allergy diagnosis is life-changing. It changes many aspects of how a family functions in daily life including how, where, and what they eat. We now wash our hands consistently, don’t eat certain foods at home, and are always cleaning the kitchen floors and countertops.
We have to be more aware of any potential allergens that might be around and if Jonathan has access to them. I also have to remind visitors not to share food with him or to touch his food if they are eating one of his allergens. I always feel like I’m nagging, but it’s just so important.
Our whole family has to make sacrifices because of our son’s food allergy diagnosis. Our daughter hasn’t been allowed to eat peanut butter at home if her brother is there in almost four years. She is constantly required to wash her hands and mouth after eating food containing milk, eggs, peanuts, etc. She gets frustrated by the constant hand washing, but she also knows it is necessary. She’s been with us for Jonathan’s emergency room visits and is very aware of his food allergies. I feel awful that she’s had to take on such a burden as a small child, but it’s the reality in which we need to live. She’s been a great big sister and is usually very attentive to him.
As our son has gotten older, he’s starting to realize he can’t eat everything. He often asks if a new food is safe for him and he knows he should only eat his own food. It makes me sad to think of all the things he might be missing out on, but I’m proud that he is starting to advocate for himself. He really doesn’t know any different and for him, it’s normal.
How We Make It Work
Over the years, our family has learned how to effectively manage to make food allergies work for us. Any food allergy family will tell you the best tip is to plan ahead. Did you get short notice of a party at school or this weekend? Keep cupcakes and safe treats on hand in the freezer, so your child always feels included. There’s nothing worse then telling your child they can’t have something every other kid can enjoy and not having an alternative. I’ve been there, and it’s not a great feeling.
We also make safe versions of holiday treats or everyday food to make sure he’s included. This often involves making vegan alternatives that we know are safe–and we’ve found most to be delicious. There’s nothing better than finding a great cake or cookie recipe and seeing the look on his face when he knows he can eat it.
We try to maintain as normal of a life for him as we can, even though it can be hard at times. We still travel and go out to eat, but we always bring food for him wherever we go. If I don’t know if we can find safe food, I bring some along.
When it comes to allergies and asthma, it is so important to speak up for yourself or your child. It’s imperative to spread awareness of the severity of allergies or asthma and how they impact daily life. Together, everyone can spread awareness of these two conditions during Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month.